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The 20 best record labels of 2017

The year's most vital imprints

  • Mixmag squad
  • 4 December 2017

Putting this together is one of our favourite parts of list season, because there’s always a fresh wave of record labels making an indelible mark on dance music, year in, year out. It’s thrilling to watch, and then document, the different sounds, ideas and aesthetics that emanate from so many brilliant imprints.

Because there’s so much to choose from, we try not to include labels that have appeared on this list in previous years. Many of the labels we’ve featured before are still firing at 100 but things would get a little repetitive if we picked them again, and no one needs that.

So here goes with the labels that defined 2017. Some are brand new operations, barely even a year old, while others are a little more mature and in the midst of their best form ever. We hope you enjoy poring over what they’ve released over the last 12 months as much as we did.

This collective has been lurking in the shadows for a second, responsible for a blazing NTS show and a lone 12”, released back in 2015 to showcase Plata’s velveteen bass. But there’s been movement in the dark and Circadian Rhythms – helmed by a cabal of musicians, artists and fashion designers including Last Japan, Blackwax, William Francis Green, Jase Coop and Dylan Tushar – has begun operating like a label intent on flipping the script (literally: it’s run as a cooperative, produces its clothes in London and creates in response to issues such as the capital’s acrid air).

An EP from true-skool dubstep hero Toasty landed in March, surrounded by an avant streetwear collection, music video and live stream hosted by K9, Killa P, Prince Mini and Slow Thai. Then Last Japan and Killa P’s ‘Exhale’ arrived in November, backed by two longsleeve tees and a pollution mask and a party, featuring Flora, Sami Baha and Silk Road Assassins, among others. All of that makes for a succinct “discography” but few other labels are operating at this intersection of music, fashion, art and performance with such interesting – and profound – results. Seb Wheeler

Moxie has been a staple of both our radio airwaves and dancefloors for over five years and her commitment to bringing new music and artists to the forefront has been exemplary. Her slots on Radio One and NTS (a station she's been part of since its conception six years ago, before that she was on Kiss) show a knowledge of music that has its sights aimed firmly at the future and her record label and party series On Loop has acted as an extension of her taste as a selector.

After a successful launch in 2016, this year she pushed on with parties around Europe featuring Bambounou, Kornél Kovács and Honey Soundsystem and as ever, she presented a new set of electronic bangers for us to indulge in. The start of the year had Fold’s ‘Mills Theme’ EP and featured the slamming ‘Bend Sinister’ whereas November presented nine tracks from different nine artists, all of which brought something unique to On Loop. Shanti Celeste, Sandboards, Throwing Snow, Traxxploitation and Addison Groove were among the artists and every track hit the sweet spot. If anything, On Loop is just getting started and we’re excited to see who else we discover with Moxie leading the way. Funster

Cazeria Cazador is a fledgling imprint, but the collective’s cultural impact in its native Chile since forming in 2015 has been significant. They subvert the conservative attitudes dominating their homeland, fighting against artistic stagnation with illegal underground parties in Santiago’s abandoned buildings and forward-thinking releases that channel a melting pot of influences.

With the status of local heroes firmly in the bag, 2017 has seen the Cazeria Cazador crew breakthrough into wider consciousness, gaining increasing attention on the international stage with distinctive musical fusions. The five-track ‘Virus Artists’ compilation that landed in August showcased their kaleidoscopic approach. Russell’s opener ‘Randex’ is thumping techno that carries a rare sense of frisky fluidity; Mucho Sueño’s contribution employs dembow rhythms to bring an infectious energy to its spacey outer textures; ‘Nimda’ from Aurelius98 is head-spinning vortex that grips your attention with a fluctuating percussive base.

The label also put out an EP of relentless rhythms from New York producer Color Plus and has another record of erratic sound design arriving from Mas569 before the year is out. Beyond the new material, Cazeria Cazador has highlighted its growth by upgrading two previously digital-only releases from Mucho Sueño and Mas569 to full vinyl outings.

There’s already one beloved Santiago-born DJ riding high in the global dance elite and consistently blowing minds. The way this lot are moving, keep your eyes peeled for more. Patrick Hinton

I’m driving a bright red 1980s corvette cruising down the California coast and the bright yellow sun is shining down as the wind blows through my hair… Then I open my eyes. I’m actually just listening to the title track off Pacific Coliseum’s ‘Ocean City’ album released on the young Coastal Haze imprint earlier this year. I could have sworn I heard waves crashing on the beach though… Fuck. Well, I can always dream.

Coastal Haze’s burgeoning success is due to a cast of fresh faces dealing out smooth, jazzy, organic productions. Jamison Isaak donned his Pacific Coliseum alias for the first time and delivered a beautiful debut album. The same goes for newcomer Buddy Love, whose LP saw a wider release this year, and Manuel Darquart, the collaborative project from Sean Whittaker and Mixmag’s own Louis Anderson-Rich, which had a debut release titled ‘Drippin & Trippin’ littered with submerged grooves and a sensual motif. Helmed by Seb Wildblood, the man behind Church, and Jake Hollick of the No Bad Days imprint, Coastal Haze is clearly in good hands.

Now back to my sun-kissed drive on the coast of Cali. All right, ‘Ocean City’. Harrison Williams

Three best mates, a carefully considered aesthetic and a sound that melds together the best tendencies of labels like Smallville, Workshop and Giegling: Valby Rotary has seriously impressed this year. The Leeds-based imprint run by Louis, Tom and Benito (as their SoundCloud descriptions reads) has come out of nowhere with three gorgeous EPs from Louf (Louis) and Tom VR (Tom) and as you can tell already, it’s very much a family affair. Born out of a mutual love and sharing of new music, the three have built a home for their sultry jams, like the serene ‘Hiccup’ and ‘If I Was’, both of which we premiered. Party-wise, they joined forces with Lobster Theremin’s Asquith for an imprint event at Wire in Leeds and as they are linked with Lobster’s booming distribution company, it was the perfect foray into label-night territory. Quality is key and 2018 will see another steady slew of peaceful yet dancefloor-focused cuts that are so soft, they’ll melt your heart and minds simultaneously. It’s always nice to see a label take its first footsteps with such grace and we’re happy to have been there from the off. Funster

Tale of Us’ Afterlife label launched in 2016. Since then, Carmine Conte and Matteo Milleri have quickly created an imprint renowned for dramatic, dark and sophisticated techno soundscapes.

It grew through 2017 at an exponential rate, starting with VAAL’s hour-long ‘Afterlife Voyage 002’ mix, gallantly following the series’ debut from Matteo and Carmine themselves, before reeling in work from Stephan Bodzin, Patrice Baumel, Barnt, Mind Against and Adriatique.

Beyond the physical releases, the Afterlife party reached new levels of eminence, finding home at Ibiza’s Privilege with a 14-week residency enlisting Dixon, Nina Kraviz, Maceo Plex, Recondite, Jamie Jones and more. Sydney Jow

Whenever a HNYTRX release surfaces it always grabs my attention. Partly because the label doesn’t release as often as I’d want and I’m forever eagerly awaiting the next 12” (quality over quantity wins out!), but mostly because everything HNYTRX releases is extremely creative and has the ability to work the dancefloor in ways that no other tracks can. Simply put, the music feels really good. And, well shit, I like to feel really good too!

The label, which is operated by Jackie House, Bézier and Jason Kendig, known as the collective Honey Soundsystem (a nod to Josh Cheon who left the crew this year), locked down the acclaimed album ‘Where Are We Going?’ from the burgeoning talent Octo Octa, which also saw two offshoot EPs, including ‘Adrift’ featuring standout remixes by Dorisburg and Avalon Emerson. Plus, Vin Sol’s gritty and cosmic ‘Moonchild’ EP, just released in October, is still fresh in our ears and is turning heads on the dancefloor. All that on top of the reissue of Patrick Cowley’s iconic ‘Afternooners’ album and high praise is certainly in order. Harrison Williams

Keeping leftfield bass revved up is Moveltraxx, run by the formidable Big Dope P. The label provides a safe haven for people who want to hear deeper cuts of footwork, juke and ghetto house which go further than ‘Perculator’ by Cajmere or DJ Deeon’s ‘Let Me Bang’. This year’s releases from regular collaborators like TT The Artist, D Double E and R3LL proved Moveltraxx’s ear for straight heat.

Regular parties in London also placed eclectic DJs like Nightwave, Lockah and Sega Bodega on the same line-up, playing to crowds bursting to experience the label's vibe. Where else would you see a footwork DJ on the bill with Feadz and DJ Falcon?!

Moveltraxx is keeping the booty-popping, sex crazy, freak music lovers happy. Club music genres that could easily be overlooked are being incubated on this label. Sherelle Thomas

Established in 2002 by Thorsten Scheu and “the DJs DJ” Gerd Janson, Running Back is a formidable music mechanism with over 140 releases under its belt and a cult status that has established artists clamouring over one another in an effort to land on the exalted imprint.

Its 2017 output saw a torrent of heart-racing releases, including Lauer’s driving and aquatic ‘Philliper’ EP; Fort Romeau’s rich, four-track ‘Emulator’; Tornado Wallace’s wistful debut album ‘Lonely Planet’; and an incursion of heavenly remixes from the likes of Justin Van Der Volgen, DJ Oyster, Call Super, DJ Fett Burger and none other than the head honcho himself, Gerd Janson.

And the label's MVP goes to KiNK, who after showing off his popular single ‘Perth’ and his sharp remix of Radio Slave’s ‘Children of the E’ on the label, decided to pair up with Running Back for the release his sophomore album ‘Playground’ - an album that has been described as “an exhibition of an artist in his prime”.

After a decade and a half of successful sounds, Running Back continues to personify the true spirit of dance music. Cameron Holbrook

Fractal Fantasy releases are like buses, so the saying goes. You wait for what feels like eternity out in the cold and the dark, and then two come along at once. Zora ‘n’ Sinjin’s label launched the latter’s debut album as well as a rocket-fuelled compilation of collaborations with fellow visionaries Jlin, DJ Rashad (RIP), DJ Sliink and Murlo, among others. Low-end disciples rejoiced and, across just two long players, the Fractal Fantasy gang proved just how damn ahead of the game they really are. Seb Wheeler

The dance music album isn’t an easy formula to get right. An artist has to maintain a level of club potential while weaving through intricacies that reward the solo listener and form a coherent whole. In 2017, Houndstooth released not one, not two, but five fine examples of the format. Over the years the imprint has built up a remarkably talented roster, allowing its signees the space and freedom to flex the full range of their artistry, and it has deservedly paid dividends.

Paul Woolford’s album ‘Belief System’ as Special Request epitomises this approach. There can’t be too many labels willing to get behind a 23-track dance music album that requires a quadruple vinyl release. (Fuck B-sides, H-sides are the new diggers’ treasure trove.) Yet Houndstooth backed their man and he duly delivered one of the standout records of 2017, taking a captivating journey through bass-loaded old-skool, lofty ambient, haywire IDM and more. Further sterling efforts featured Call Super’s subtly powerful techno tapestries; Second Storey’s emotionally-charged sound experiments; Throwing Snow grounding grand, swelling electronica with hard-edged foundations; and Guy Andrews’ dark, compelling atmospheres.

Houndstooth also kept the EP game on lock, with two of experimental music’s most revered figures Gaika and Dean Blunt (as Babyfather) remixing 18+ and Akkord unleashing tumultuous UK-styled hybrids. And beyond all the music, there’s a romantic element to the story. Houndstooth’s future must have surely been threatened by the fallout from fabric’s closure last year - it’s been heart-warming to see it thrive. Patrick Hinton

In a scene that’s now rife with obscure sounds and abstract artists, it can be hard to decipher the pioneers from the pursuers. But Halcyon Veil – brainchild of Houston producer Eric C. Burton, aka Rabit – has flourished into a leading force in the world of unpredictable, emotional club productions.

Since 2015, the imprint’s championed the radical and the reactionary, with notable, nonconformist affiliates such as Why B, ANGEL-HO and Chino Amobi helping to push the mutated, mind-bending movement out onto the world stage. And over the past 12 months, Halcyon Veil has released material from the likes of Rabit himself, alongside IVVVO, NAKED, City, Dale Cornish, Fawkes and Mhysa, with the latter’s ‘fantasii’ project a prime example of the dramatically tortured, yet inherently beautiful explorations blossoming from within (I mean, the first time we heard glitchy club cut ‘You Not About That Lyfe’, it permeated our brain for weeks – fact).

But to limit the label to “just another club imprint” would be all kinds of head-shaking, teeth-kissing absurdity. Rich in meaning and presence, the challenging sounds offered up are less deconstructed, and more sheer demolition, flooding over the dancefloor and the senses like artillery fire and shattering glass all wrapped up into one wholly moving moment. And after the year we’ve had, this visceral vision set forth by Halcyon Veil only highlights the importance of confrontational creativity in times of societal strife and cultural unease. Jasmine Kent-Smith

We missed Hemlock last year. The label had a 21-month dry spell between HEK026 (Brood Ma’s angular ‘P O P U L O U S’ LP) and its return in February with a 27th addition to the catalogue: Bruce’s ‘Before You Sleep’. If label owner Untold needed some time out to return invigorated, it was worth the wait.

The Bruce EP commenced the return masterfully, imbuing aching emotion into distorted, disparate arrangements. Kicked back into action, Hemlock stayed at full throttle from then on. A further five imaginative dancefloor constructions followed, seeing some of the most innovative producers around utilising forceful sub-bass, blistering, staccato melodies and archetypal brief vacuums of silence, bringing an arresting sense of dynamism to open space. While the producers share a common thread of influence, variation has ranged from Airhead’s almost big room-esque flurry of rave stabs on ‘Shaded’ to Parris’ experiments in off-kilter restraint. Dancefloors were made into trippier, more interesting places thanks to Hemlock in 2017; let’s hope it doesn’t leave us again anytime soon. Patrick Hinton

Toy Tonics records don’t leave the bag, ever. They bide their time, waiting for that ideal moment in a DJ set when the crowd needs a hard, but loving, smack with some soul… and BAM! They hit like an adrenaline shot to the chest and the groove continues at just the right pace. Smooth. Oh how we love and cherish those moments and Toy Tonics is a constant supplier.

Here at Mixmag, Toy Tonics was high on our radar right from the jump, first with Kapote’s ‘The Body Move’, a bassy yet delicate jam that we premiered, and later with Jad & The’s ‘Strings That Never Win’, a disco-tinged belter that we also got the first play of. Add three more releases from COEO and one each from Black Loops and Rhode & Brown and that’s a well stacked year. But don’t sleep, they still have much more in the bag. All eyes, and ears, on Toy Tonics. Harrison Williams

All of the labels on this list have never featured on it before. Only one imprint makes a return to the fold after being declared champion in 2015. Nina Kraviz’s трип (pronounced Trip) is arguably one of the strongest new labels of the last five years. Its consistently experimental, shape-shifting releases have kept audiences on their toes since its conception and the roster features an exciting array of new artists, all of who offer something different.

This year the label focused more on individual artist EPs rather than compilations, in turn giving the producers a chance to shine in their own light. Deniro’s ‘Mendoza’ EP featured 7 new tracks, all of which focused on his spacey techno stylings, Biogen released a double album, Roma Zuckermann made his furiously visceral debut and PTU returned with another hellish seven-track record. As for Nina, her ‘Pochuvstvui’ EP was one of the stand-out releases of the year and perfectly showcased her ever-evolving sound. The label parties were as far-out as ever with stops at a 150 foot water tower in Helsinki and an in-store session at Amsterdam’s Rush Hour Records. The latter sent the vinyl shop into a temporary sauna, with the whole place, as Antal described, “steady-rocking”. Трип artists are indeed part of something very unique. Funster

I can’t remember the last time PAN didn’t have a showpiece year. But with the release of six finely-crafted long players, its exploration of electronic music appears more mouth-watering than ever before. You want a thorough survey of the bleeps, bumps and buzz that appear in the dead of night and at the break of dawn? PAN provides with Pan Daijing’s experimental noise, M.E.S.H.’s reconfiguration of club music, Erorrsmith’s ecstatic rhythms, STILL’s futuristic soundsystem bangers, Konrad Sprenger’s algorithmic bliss and ‘Mono No Aware’, a fabulous survey of the ambient underground. It’s honestly all killer and no filler with Bill Kouligas’ imprint and if we’re taking parties into account too, his label showcases continue to be a prime example of a really fucking good time. Seb Wheeler

Take yourself back to 2015 and the final night of Plastic People. Floating Points is playing out the soaring gospel anthem ‘The Power Of Your Love’ by Spirit Of Love to close the club. It’s a moment that has gone down in dance music folklore. Six months later and Edinburgh-based reissue label Athens Of The North reissues the record and announces itself as a major player, and a democratic force, in the revitalized disco scene. No longer would online sellers hold longtime lovers and new fans of these rare records ransom.

Fast forward to 2017 and Euan Fryer’s label has kept that promise, keeping its fingers in the deepest crates as well as the pulse of today’s DJ scene. Taking it’s name from the title Edinburgh gave itself as a sign of its growing importance on the world stage, the label has followed suit and spread its wings with over 20 releases served up in signature 7-inch format this year. It’s no mean feat in a world full of licensing pitfalls, dodgy record presses and the snobby Discogs elite. But Athens Of The North has made it seem easy, turning its momentum of the past few years into a buy-on-sight reputation.

From the party-boogie of Frazelle to the soul of Willie Dale to straight-forward disco rarities like BAB’s ‘Party & Get On Down’, it’s no wonder the label has been a constant source for Mixmag’s disco rarities playlist. But there’s a healthy vision for the future with the label dropping an album of cinematic jazz oddities by Hampshire and Foat, and releasing the debut album from Grupo Magnético on sub label Atenas Del Norte. While the label might specialise in rehashing history, its method will never grow old. Louis Anderson-Rich

Having just finished up its freshman year, Shanti Celeste’s bold and rosy imprint Peach Discs has bloomed into a toothsome record label.

It’s her second label endeavour, following on from BRSTL, which focused on finding new, Bristol-based talent. Peach Discs has a similar, yet more personal ethos to that of BRSTL - allowing her to break new artists while simultaneously indulging her love of painting through the design of the label’s art. The hardworking, DIY spirit of the label and Celeste's dedication to creating a platform for her “many friends who make really good music but haven’t released it yet” is what makes Peach Discs such a deliciously genuine effort.

Four EPs have arrived: a glittering and breaksy ‘Untitled’ debut from Celeste; a hard-nosed and blistering house release from the new Bristol-based duo Fred; a wicked bassy techno entrée from the Leeds-based producer Chekov; and a voluble three-track release from Ciel, a key crusader for Toronto’s underground scene. Cameron Holbrook

Some labels stake their claim among the finest of the year with help from a ubiquitous club anthem that dominates dancefloors and turns heads across the globe. Others impress in a stealthier fashion, so that you come to the end of the calendar and the full might of its recent discography dawns with the intensity of a wide-eyed TV detective piecing together clues in a rapid flashback montage.

Scanning back over the past 12 months, the sheer volume of releases from the Don’t Be Afraid camp dotted among our favourites became quickly apparent. Semtek’s imprint has been industrious, almost doubling its 2016 release numbers, maintaining a straight line atop the quality axis as the quantity has increased.

Three full-lengths have arrived: Karen Gwyer’s inventive, energetic hardware techno triumph ‘Rembo’; DJ Bone exploring futuristic Detroit electro-techno, boldly declaring ‘It’s Good To Be Differ-Ent’; and Achim Maerz’s visceral ‘Experiments’ jams.

A diverse range of EPs from some of the brightest names in dance music has included rRoxymore’s woozy, complex rhythms; Ikonika underpinning glossy synths with a relentless percussive workout; and Semtek returning to the fore to serve up a stylistic pressure cooker of transatlantic influences. DBA has also championed new artists, minting a moody debut and idiosyncratic sophomore effort from Tyler Dancer and Jason Winters respectively. Fearless form. Patrick Hinton

House lights low, stage lights firing off, bodies moving; I remember closing my eyes and moving to the sound of a then unknown track bursting through speakers at the command of Bicep. It was the kind of tune that cut me off in the middle of a late night, shouted conversation with dancefloor mates. It took every ounce of my attention without asking, sweeping me off my feet with a full bodied, cinematic bassline and an enchanting melody. Little did I know that, back in 2016, this would soon be revealed as ‘Aura’, a single that would come to define 2017.

The October Mixmag cover stars dominated the year with their self-titled debut album and you’d be hardpressed to find a differing opinion. ‘Bicep’ was the kind of album that gave new blood to the mythical world of ‘90s rave while simultaneously pushing peak-time dance music into the future. And it came out on Ninja Tune, a label that’s been operating since those halcyon days and is now a platform for some of the most exciting electronic music going.

Ninja hit an apex in 2017. It began with February cover star Bonobo’s complex and emotional ‘Migration’ album, continued on with Actress’ challenging and disorienting album ‘AZD’, Bicep’s self-titled conqueror and follow-up ‘Glue’ EP, Seattle duo ODESZA’s second studio album ‘A Moment Apart’ (co-released with Counter Records), a slew of sharp Machinedrum singles and Helena Hauff’s powerhouse ‘Have You Been There Have You Seen It’ EP. Beyond the “household names”, the label remained a stout believer, taking a leap with lesser known names who have broken through: Jordan Rakei’s melting pot album of soul, jazz and electronic ‘Wallflower’, O'Flynn’s sharp take on acid 'Pluto's Beating Heart' and Nabihah Iqbal’s stunning ‘Weighing Of The Heart’ album. Valerie Lee

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